SEOUL - South Korea is still watching how negotiations between the United States and North Korea are going to determine whether President Moon Jae In should fly to Singapore for the June 12 summit, reported Yonhap News Agency on Monday (June 4).
The possibility of Moon joining the summit gained traction after US President Donald Trump said last week - following a meeting with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in Washington - that his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could result in an agreement formally ending the Korean War.
“We talked about ending the war,” Trump said on the south lawn after Kim Yong Chol left the White House. The US leader said the signing of a statement to end the Korean war would be “very important”.
The 1950 to 1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.
Should the US and the North agree to announce the agreement during the summit, Moon would have to travel to Singapore to join them.
South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo, quoting a diplomatic source, reported on Monday (June 4) that Mr Moon will join Mr Kim and Mr Trump in Singapore next week to declare an end to the Korean War, which has technically been running for 68 years.
“Preparations are already underway for President Moon to declare a formal end to the Korean War with the two leaders on June 12, the date of the North-U.S. summit, or the next day on the 13th,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“Singapore has already begun preparations to host President Moon (for a trilateral meeting).” the source told JoongAng.
But a presidential official said no decision has been made yet, Yonhap reported.
"Nothing has been decided yet about a trip to Singapore or a trilateral summit," a presidential official said on Sunday.
The Presidential Blue House expects a political declaration that will remove hostilities ahead of the signing of a legally binding peace treaty, according to Chosun Ilbo. The newspaper added that "it remains to be seen what happens to the status of the US Forces Korea (USFK), the UN Command that oversees the armistice, the Combined Forces Command, and the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border".
Senior South Korean and US government officials desperately want the US forces stationed in South Korea to be kept out of any peace treaty. The USFK is stationed here under a separate mutual defense treaty from October 1953.
Last week, the Blue House sent an official to Singapore, fuelling speculation that the aide might be preparing for a meeting involving the three leaders.
The presidential office denied the rumors, saying the dispatch was a preparation for a summit between the leaders of South Korea and Singapore in July.
The Moon administration has been careful not to affect delicate negotiations between US and North Korean officials in the run-up to the June 12 summit.
An official told Yonhap news agency that he South is working closely with the US on negotiations with the North.
"It's not that our government has entered into full-fledged preparations to join the North-US summit," the official told reporters.
"We're keeping an eye on negotiations between the North and the US on the agenda."
A three-way summit was originally proposed by Moon and the North Korean leader when they held their first meeting at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27.
Last month, Moon again expressed his hope that such a summit can be held.
"Should the North Korea-US summit succeed, I would like to see efforts to formally end the (Korean) war through a three-way summit of the South, the North and the US," he told a press briefing on May 27, a day after his second meeting with Kim at Panmunjom.
The 1950-1953 Korean War broke out when the Soviet-backed North Korean army invaded an ill-prepared South Korea on the night of June 25, 1950.
Three years of fighting devastated the peninsula and failed to end the division set in place by the Soviets and Western nations at the end of World War II.
Mr Cho Seong Ryoul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy and a member of advisory group for President Moon, told The Korea Herald on Saturday that declaring an end to the Korean War is necessary to ease North Korea’s security concerns during the denuclearisation process until the current armistice agreement is replaced by a peace treaty.
Replacing the armistice with a peace treaty will require the participation of the three signatories of the 1953 armistice: the US-led United Nations Command on behalf of South Korea and the North Korean and Chinese militaries. Therefore, it needs consent from Beijing.
But Professor Park Tae Gyun, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies of Seoul National University, told Yonhap:"Considering the current US-China relations, the two may fail to achieve a shift to a peace treaty. Unlike ending the war, a peace treaty could be signed by the two Koreas alone."
Prof Park suggested that a non-aggression treaty could be an alternative if a peace treaty is seen as too difficult to achieve, reported Yonhap.
"A non-aggression pact is a lower level treaty than a peace treaty and it has been rarely used since World War II. But it will be wiser to secure even low-level treaties one by one than fail to produce any treaty after drawn-out negotiations," Park said in a contribution to the latest issue of quarterly magazine "Critical Review of History."
In this regard, he suggested, a revision of the armistice agreement should also be considered.
In November 1950, the North stood on the brink of being defeated by the U.S.-led UN Command and Chinese leader Mao Zedong sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers across the border to drive the UN forces south.
More than 100,000 Chinese, including Mao's son, were killed in the conflict. The two Communist allies often say their alliance was “forged in blood”.